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Defining Atheism

Atheism is derived from the greek theos, meaning, god. Adding “a” in front of a word is like adding “not”. “A-theism” is “not-god”. In the way atheism is being approach recently, as you probably already know, it does not only deny the existence of god(s) but also attacks beliefs and believers. This is not a terrible thing, but rather a necessary part of disbelief. That is, if one rejects theism but accepts objective morality- even situational ethics. More on atheism later, or as I think it is more accurately defined: antitheism.

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  1. January 19, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    Attacks? That’s a rather loaded term, don’t you think? That reminds of defining women who stand up for themselves as ‘militant feminists’ and ‘aggressive’ rather than the much more positive terminology used to describe the same behaviours of men, such as ‘confident’ and ‘assertive’.

    Without question, most atheists I know criticize religion and religious beliefs for many very good reasons… most notably because many of these theologies simply don’t care about what’s true, and conflate without any verifiable merit faith-based beliefs to be magically compatible with and equivalent to evidence based ways of knowing, yet produce ‘answers’ that stand in stark contrast to (and directly conflict with) the understanding we have gained and knowledge we have built in every other area of human endeavor. From these false religious answers and unverifiable theological certainties come a never-ending assault against human reasoning, human rights and freedoms, and human dignity. Especially targeted are women (as well as gays and lesbians).

    None of these issues are a necessary part of non belief but they continue to help produce an ever-growing population of our youth who have no need for woo. This is a very hopeful sign.

    • January 28, 2011 at 12:03 PM

      Tildeb, thanks for sharing your thoughts, they’re always welcome. You’re right attacks is a loaded word, and I probably should change that. Would it be better suited to say “[…] the existence of god(s) but also actively rallies against beliefs and believers”?
      You have raised a sticky issue central to this theme, and I know it’s a lot to ask, but what are the “evidence based ways of knowing… that [religion] stand in stark contrast to (and directly conflict with) the understanding gained and knowledge we have build in every other area of human endeavor.”? Please be specific to Christianity as I, as a Christian, will readily refute other religions. I want to knw what those evidences are that do not allow for Christian belief.

      • January 28, 2011 at 10:02 PM

        That’s a fair question Carly Jo and deserves a fair answer. Bear with me.

        Put aside everything you think you know about atheists, their positions, their motivations, and their histories for a moment and consider the fiollowing question. This question represents the one concern that unites all atheists about ANY religious claims:

        Is it true?

        The second question that follows is just as important:

        How can we know?

        So that’s the foundation of atheism… not ‘answers’ but ‘questions’. Important questions that ground the search, the inquiry into answers.

        Now let’s move away from religion for the time being because it’s so loaded with emotional baggage that it’s difficult to work around. Instead, let’s look at any claim and see how we come at it.

        You hear your car is being towed. What do you do? Someone tells you that your lottery ticket is a winner. What do you do? You hear an unusual sound in your home. What do you do?

        If you are like most people, you do what has proven over time to be essential: you look for verification. You do not simply believe something is true; you try to verify it and hold off believing something is true strictly on the merit of your belief/hope/wish/imagining/whatever. You don’t stop looking for verification because you decide that the comfort you might gain from your belief (I won the lottery!) is sufficient to believe something to be true; you first seek verification before you infuse the claim with your belief (I checked the lottery numbers and…)

        Verification comes naturally to us because we know that what we simply believe to be true, what we hope is true, what might be true because we want it to be so (or don’t want it depending on the claim), can be wrong if all we have is our belief. If we are honestly concerned with coming to know what is true and what isn’t, an important component is independent verification.

        Now we roll around to figuring out what is the difference between verification we can trust and verification that is still too ‘iffy’ to trust. This involves a method to follow that has proven over time to be trustworthy. And we determine this by using a bunch of factors (more is better because more adds consensus to the results)… factors like consistency, reliability, practical results, and so on.

        Let’s say we always turn to someone for our verification. First there’s someone I’ll call Fred. Fred like to fool us. He likes to tell us stuff to make us look silly. He does this all the time. How do we know that relying on Fred for verification is a practice that will not bring us any closer to knowing what’s true? Well, because he has shown over time that what he tells us is inconsistent about what’s true, unreliable about what’s true, and impractical about what’s true not because we have anything against Fred as a person but because he has shown himself as someone who is not trustworthy.

        I use Fred as an example because the opposite kind of person can also be used as a means of verification… someone we have learned to trust I’ll call Ruth. If we use others as our primary method to verify what’s true, it is essential that we FIRST establish a test to figure out if the person is more like a Fred or a Ruth. Again, we turn to such factors as consistency, reliability, practical examples, and so on.

        You will note that verification relies on the same kind factors regardless of the specifics of the verification method we have chosen. This falls under the category of how can we know if some method we have chosen for our verification about the truthfulness of claims is trustworthy?

        If your car is being towed? I doubt you would turn to something like an Ouiji board or fortune teller for verification when you can simply go look for yourself. Is your lottery ticket a winner? I doubt you would put much stock in the reading the entrails of a goat or looking for signs in the weather when you can verify yourself what the winning numbers are. You hear an unusual sound. I doubt you would think much of someone who thought sacrificing a chicken would reveal what that sound was rather than looking for yourself.

        You don’t start any inquiry by assuming you already know the answer, or that you can trust an answer BEFORE you begin the process of verification. You don’t infuse supernatural explanations about your inquiries with an assumed factor of truthfulness because they are exempt from normal verification; you would need to build trust from these methods to provide answers through a history of consistency, reliability, and practical results.

        Now let’s return to religious beliefs for a moment. Not yours. Someone else’s. The question I have for this other person is: are your religious claims true? How can you know?

        What I’m looking for is – you guessed it – verification. What is the method this person uses for verifying that the belief that the truth claims s/he holds are indeed true? What kind of factors make up this method and do they indeed provide consistency, reliability, and practical use?

        What I find disturbing is that too often religious believers make a remarkable exception, a special exemption, for their religious beliefs from any method of verification. In fact, the beliefs are held to be true FIRST, and only then subjected to any kind of verification that supports what appears to be true but ignores or discards whatever verification is iffy or lacking that doesn’t support the beliefs. More often than not, these weaknesses in verification are excused and exempted by placing the belief beyond the reach of rational verification, somewhere in the great supernatural realm away from any ability to verify. Worst of all, I find this lack of verification to be held as a VIRTUE in believing some theology to be factually true! In any other area of life, the lack of verification casts the greatest doubt on the claim’s truthfulness!

        Christianity is absolutely typical. It’s ‘holy’ scriptures contain many contradictions and factually incorrect truth claims. The convoluted theology uses an ancient creation story as the justifying explanation to a much later event. We are to hold some aspects of the faith as revealed in scripture to be metaphorical, only to be told we need to hold other parts as literal without any independent means or method to separate the two. We are told to believe through a leap of faith FIRST without any means or method to verify the belief as true and no way to satisfactorily justify the answers we supposedly have except by assumption and assertion. In any other area of life, faith alone is not a virtue but a failed method of establishing what is and is not true.

        Assuming answers FIRST does not enhance inquiry or yield what is true. It interferes and impedes honest inquiry and discards any means and reasonable method of verification. Faith stands AGAINST finding out what’s true and inserts answers that may or may not be true without any method to differentiate.

  2. January 26, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    I consider myself an ‘a-christian’ based on the terminology ‘a-theism’. In essence, I am considered a Christian but not neccesarily – since I am in some serious disagreement with many tenets.

    However, atheism is interesting and they provide some of the best theological conversations, they are actually helping refine the faith and that’s not bad at all.

  3. February 22, 2011 at 1:43 PM

    Tildeb, in response to asking how Christianity directly contradicted natural ways of gaining knowledge, you merely said that religions are not verified firmly enough to be thought of as true. That is not a contradiction. “the horizon is vertical” or “an entirely blue ball is red” are examples of contradiction.
    Would you not agree that Christianity cannot be proven true just as much as it cannot be proven false? If so, then atheism is a conclusion (that God does not exist, and so Christianity is not true) made on inadequate grounds of verification. It can’t be verified. The atheist can be an atheist but not on grounds of lack of evidence.
    Tildeb, what do you do when you hear your car is being towed and you have no means of verification? Do you act like every thing is fine and make no arrangements to get around, because you do not have verification, and therefore it cannot be true? Or do your actions reflect the assumption that your car has, indeed, been towed. You would at the very least call a friend wish a car who can help you if you find yourself in need, would you not? I’m not sure what the spiritual implications of that mode of thinking are exactly, but it was my first thought to your car towed dilemma.
    You second to last paragraph started to answer my original question, are you still interested in chatting that out?

    • February 22, 2011 at 3:43 PM

      The method of inquiry is contradictory in that faith is seen as a virtue in christianity, whereas the same kind of faith in science is a failing. Faith is what makes the two methods of inquiry contradictory. That makes religions built on faith-based beliefs incompatible with the very foundation of science.

      If I claim that you are in fact a mushroom, then it is my job as the claimant to prove my case, to show why my claim is valid, that you are a mushroom not just because I claim it to be so but because I can verify with good reasons based (hopefully) on evidence that my claim is likely to be true. If I cannot prove my case, does this make the original claim as likely to be true as false? No. It means my claim is without merit, that I have failed to show why my claim is valid, that I have been unable to show with good reasons and (hopefully) evidence that you are as I claim you to be. Lacking these, my claim is simply empty and so it is unreasonable to grant it the same likelihood of being true as not true. In fact, my failure shows that there is no basis to consider my claim has any validity at all. The likely truth is that you are not a mushroom, that the claim I made originally is false.

      This is what scepticism is all about: it is a starting position of doubt and insisting that claims must have good reasons to alter this starting position. And this comes naturally to us as I outlined in my previous comment; we come to life as sceptical creatures and seek independent verification almost all of the time to shift us away from doubt.

      Now consider your alternate point regarding my claim that you are a mushroom: can you prove that you are NOT a mushroom? How would you go about this? More importantly, why should you need to do all this work simply to confront a ludicrous claim that has no merit? No matter how much information and evidence you gather, I can always sit back with my Cheshire Cat look of satisfaction and say that your work is not enough. You are still a mushroom.

      Now let’s assume that I fail to appreciate all your efforts to prove why you are NOT a mushroom – and I’m sure you could come up with hundreds of good reasons why this claim is wrong – and continue to claim that you really are, and then ask the interested bystander to consider that my failure to prove my case with ANYTHING at all, and your failure to prove my case wrong IN SPITE OF hundreds of good reasons why the claim is highly doubtful, means that they are both equally possible truth claims and that it is simply a matter of personal choice to decide whether you are or are not a mushroom!

      What is lost in this line of reasoning to evaluate me and my absurd claim is what is actually true, what is factually true, what is evidentially true. The fact of the matter is you are either a mushroom or you are not. The bystander’s belief one way or the other does not make this claim valid. But by thinking that the truth belongs to the bystander whether or not you are a mushroom fails utterly to account for what is actually true. The only reason why such a consideration about you being a mushroom has nothing whatsoever to do with reality, has no bearing whatsoever on what species you actually belong to; the only reason why anyone might consider you a mushroom is because I merely claimed it and then manipulated a line of thinking to get bystanders to actually consider the possibility that they rather than what’s factually true determines what IS true.

      This is what faith does: it undermines our ability to think rationally about what is factually true and substitutes metaphysics and empty claims to represent the universe… forgetting that the universe is in fact knowable as it really is. Faith sidetracks us into describing the universe through a very particular and peculiar set of supernatural frames… as if the empty claims are empowered by us bystander simply by asking us to believe the original extraordinary claims to be true without allowing us the means to verify them… and then call this gullibility a virtue!

      Atheism is the state of scepticism you bring with you and utilize every day in every other area of your life and nobody pretend you are immoral if you rush to the window to verify if your car is, in fact, being towed. Nobody thinks you are untrustworthy because you like to verify whether or not you won the lottery no matter who has told you that you have. Nobody this you have some defect in your character if you go and check out some unusual sound in your home. Yet atheists face this kind of silly discrimination when it comes to christianity all the time. Over 85% of Egyptians, for example, think it is perfectly justified to kill someone who doesn’t believe in Allah and submit to Mohammad as his perfect messenger. Imagine if there were a country that put people to death for not believing in Zeus, who insisted that if you could not prove that Odin didn’t exist, you shouldn’t be able to hold public office unless you sacrificed in his name and started every school day with a prayer of thanks to Vishnu!

      You are an atheist. You are a practicing atheist. You do not believe in every god someone has claimed to be true… except the one you currently believe in. The degree of difference between us is less than 1/35,000 when it comes to where we park our belief in god claims. As Dawkins has said about his non belief compared to all other religious believers many times, “I just go one god further.”

      So when you suggest there are implications of the default scepticism each of us holds almost to the same degree to what you call a ‘spiritual’ consideration, I hope you realize that as far as any human response we have will be very similar. The depth of my compassion is not hindered by my scepticism about god claims whatsoever, but you can bet that my compassionate response is not in any way based on some hypothetical supernatural reward for my behaviour. I give because I want to give, because I see cause and choose to help, and not because I’m earning brownie points for some later judgement. My character is my own and my actions are an honest reflection of who and what I am. And I happen to highly value honesty because that allows me the freedom to participate in the world on terms that I think are important for reasons that I think are good reasons. I respect what’s true more than I regard my beliefs about what I would prefer to be true, and this allows me to deal with the world honestly. I am not encumbered by beliefs that may or may not be true because I value what IS true and my beliefs (and opinions) are subject to change if conditions warrant a change. This allows me to have intellectual integrity over and above any selfish clinging I may have to beliefs I find comforting or that are more socially acceptable. If I respect what’s true, then I don’t care who says it or how it is said or what effect it may have on the comfort level of others: I care that I inform my beliefs and opinions and actions on the foundation of what is true. And I can never, ever, come to know what is true in fact if I first assume that faith – belief without compelling evidence and/or independent verification – is a virtue. It’s not. It’s an intellectual capitulation.

      • February 23, 2011 at 4:47 PM

        Tildeb, thanks for the reply. I want to talk in depth of much of your analogy of the mushroom, but I shall refrain, leaving one thought for you. Have you considered that claiming God does not exist has the same validity as claiming I am a mushroom?
        Concerning my being an atheist: while the conclusion of atheism may be similar, our methods of arriving there are very different. I am an atheist of all gods but one because of my belief in the one. It excludes belief in all others, and since I have studied and found the God of Christianity to be true I also find all other gods to be false. Your atheism, on the other hand, came about because you studied every god and found no sufficient evidence of verification, and since you did study all of them you now know that no god exists. Have I made it clear how your logic does not work? You cannot possibly test every truth claim for divinity, there’s simply too many, and so you cannot say that they cannot all be lacking verification. You have made a decision, and come to a conclusion, and claim it is based on lack of evidence, or verification, or whatever word you like, the fact is not possibly true. I’ll say what I have said about 10 times in these blogs, it’s okay to be an atheists, but it is not logically okay to be an atheist based on lack of evidence.
        In your last paragraph you said your beliefs were subject to change. What is your relationship between truth and belief? Do you believe it true that no god does exist? Do you know it to be truth that no god exists? Do you believe that Barrak Obama is indeed African American, or do you believe he puts on thick makeup everyday? Have you tested it? Can you make a conclusion, and if you do is it a truth claim or is it undeniable truth? From what I understand of your skepticism, you believe it to be true that no god exists. But you cannot know the truth. Let me say what I think you’re really searching for. It does not matter anyone’s particular belief, how many people believe it, or how much evidence there is to support or deny it. The only thing that matters is what is actually true.
        Tildeb, I would leave this conversation alone if I thought I didn’t have very significant information to add. It was your statement about brownie points that kept me around for this one. The do good deeds and get a pat on the back at the gates of heaven has been some people’s theology. But I know it to be bad theology. Paul writes “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption of Jesus Christ.” It’s not about what we do. If it were we’d have no hope. It’s about what Christ has done in the lives of each individual. Will you allow him?

      • February 25, 2011 at 11:22 AM

        Well, CJ, your first paragraph is a bit off, which sets the rest of your comment sailing off on the wrong path. Let me explain:

        If you wish me to consider my claim that god does not exist (and I don’t claim this because I have absolutely no way to know anything about this undefinable entity you call god… but I know have no reason to support the positive claim that god DOES exist) then the correct analogy would be to compare that to you NOT being a mushroom. Unlike god, you are physically present and can be shown to possess none of the properties (well, almost none of the properties) that define what a mushroom is. Again, there is no reason to support the positive claim that you ARE a mushroom.

        Although I have pointed this out several times, your use of trying to argue by using the negative claim is cheating. You would have great difficulty proving the negative claim that you are NOT a mushroom, because that involves collecting all evidence that identifies everything everywhere all the time FIRST and then revealing the absence of evidence that you are a mushroom. Positive claim, by contrast, focus only on that evidence that supports the positive claim. Furthermore, the onus of proof lies with the person making the positive claim and not on everyone else to run about trying to disprove it to that person’s satisfaction.

        Non belief in extraordinary positive claims is the default. That’s why you don’t believe in Muk Muk of the Volcano… you have zero reasons to think anything at all about it! But if I were to tell you that Muk Muk is a god, then it falls to me as the claimant to explain why this is so and not on you to show why my claim is false.

        Nor is it intellectually honest to claim agnosticism about ol’ Muk Muk. You do not honestly think it as likely to be true as false the Muk Muk is a god with zero evidence to inform the positive claim. And without any preponderance of evidence to inform the claim as more likely true, you have no reason to pay it any mind at all. You simply don’t believe the claim.

        If someone were to come along and tell you that it’s NOT okay for you to pay Muk Muk no attention, that it is illogical for you not to be an atheist regarding him (in spite of there being no reason at all for you to believe anything at all about ol’ Muk Muk), I’m sure you would say to yourself, “Hang on… if there is no reason to believe something because there is no evidence to believe it to be true, then why is not believing a problem?” Obviously, it’s not a problem. There are untold millions of claims empty of any truth value for which there is no reason to believe. Muk Muk is just one. That you are a mushroom is another. It’s okay not to believe in any of them… unless a preponderance of evidence can be brought forward to show that this claim or that is, in fact, true.

        That’s why it is essential that I have good reasons to inform the notion that there is anything true about your god. Without these reasons, I cannot think there is anything true to “let in.” And, in fact, it is very much a matter of “what we do” that determines the quality of our character, just as it is very much a matter of how we think that determines the quality of our intellectual integrity. When I see people sacrificing this integrity of the intellect to maintain faith-based beliefs, I see people sacrificing their character by doing what they ought not do.

      • February 25, 2011 at 1:12 PM

        Tildeb, you do not believe in any god you have heard of, and are an atheist. Have you in fact examined all of the proposed evidence for each deity and concluded that there is no reason to believe? If you have, then your argument is very very good. If you have not but have concluded atheism without looking thoroughly into all suspected evidences then you have atheism based on something other than reason. I’ll grant you, for the sake of the argument, that “proof lies with the person making the positive claim”. If proof is proposed via whatever obscure forum, the onus of examination lies with the person making the negative claim.
        Your real problem is a difference in our definitions of atheism, I think. To say atheism in my mind is to say There is no god(s). If one claims something along the lines of “I have no way of knowing anything absolutely about a claimed god because there is no evidence for the positive claim, but I do not believe the god true, because by default I believe complex positive claims false until completely justified before me, so I am an atheist and not an agnostic” then they are using a couple qualifiers which make their statement true, but it redefines atheism and becomes a sad play at semantics. Let me guess, you disagree.
        Tildeb, I’m interested, are you claiming you have evidence for non belief in God? It’s not really clear in the context of analogy, and would be really helpful to know.
        Some evidences for God, so that possibly you will see that it’s not a sacrifice of intellectual integrity to have faith:
        1. Morality. I do not cling to the moral argument like some do, but it does seem to come up. In your last paragraph you mentioned intellectual integrity, and character, and “ought”. Why “ought”? Is this sense of morality cultural? Well cultures differ, morality cannot. Is it genetic? Well genes differ, morality cannot. Is it learned? Well learning can differ morality cannot. Genes, culture, and learning can all affect a person’s outlook on morality, but we believe there to be an absolute morality, do we not? (for instance, genocide, baby torture, wife beating, and so on). Naturalism does not seem to account for morality.
        2. Historical evidence. Tildeb, I’m sure you’ve come across the evidences of historical documentation for Jesus. The manuscript evidence is amazing, the archeological evidences for Luke, and Acts are incredibly accurate (without flaw actually) at some point you have to realize that what is testable has stood up to scrutiny with amazing results. Jesus did live. And then you must decide who he really was/is.
        3. The consistency of the bible. No doubt you are scoffing at this one right now. Bring your questions of inconsistencies and I will do my best to answer them. When that is done you will see how incredible of a document the bible really is. Might I take a moment to answer a lot of questions now? Different writing styles warrant different interpretation. You do not read poetry’s imagery to be literal.
        4. (Not to persuade anyone, but for the individual’s faith) personal experience. It is easy to deny an experience you have never had. But if you experienced something, and you absolutely know it to be true, then even if people are skeptical, it cannot change the truth of the experience you had. If God is indeed real such experiences would be inevitable. I personally am very skeptical of these as well. I think people are on some stuff, and get superstitious. But I also think when someone really listens to God, through scripture and through his creation, and meditates and communicates with God, then the experience they had is golden, and I’ll be the last to deny it.
        There is evidence, there is reason to believe, and it is not a sacrifice of intellectual integrity. I hope by the end of this conversation, even if you still disagree, that you will see how faith in light of this evidence, and mental struggling is integrity at it’s finest.

      • February 25, 2011 at 3:16 PM

        Do I have evidence for no god? Obliquely.

        There is an absence of evidence in many fields of study where there should be evidence if there were a creator, if he did intervene in the world, if we were offspring of some divine mechanic. There is evidence of extraordinarily poor ‘design’ where there should be ‘fixes’. Every natural system we look at acts as if there were no intervention at all. Energy systems are not unbalanced by some left over start up energy juice. And so on.

        But I think the greatest impediment to informing the god hypothesis is suffering. What kind of god would it take to create a system based on mass suffering, “red in tooth and claw,” one designed to either starve the predator to death or be eaten alive as prey? This system from a moral point of view is obscene. And if I can appreciate why it is morally obscene, then what does it say about the moral stature of the hypothetical creator who intentionally designed it so? At the very least it makes such a creator unworthy of my moral respect.

        Notice how easily you switch from writing about god to writing about Jesus as the two meant the same thing. I know you believe Jesus was god but I have no reason to. There are swammis in India today who make similar claims and I certainly don’t go rushing off to invest my faith with these charlatans. And how do I know they are charlatans? Because they, like Jesus, cannot offer evidence for their so-called ‘divine’ powers other than rely on the testimony of those who have been fooled into believing.

        The bible – NT and OT – are filled with false truth claims. I think there are 63 references to the earth as the centre of the universe. What does that oft-repeated error indicate to you? I don’t care what kind of poetry each inaccurate reference comes wrapped in, nor do I care how others would like me to ‘interpret’ these truth claims that are clearly false. What it indicates to me is that I would expect writers – humans – to make this kind of error because the heliocentric model is not intuitive… it looks wrong until you examine the details and look for a single and beautifully simple explanation (thank you Galileo for not believing what you had been told to believe but looking closely at the evidence yourself and have the intellectual integrity to present your findings while able to defend them).

        There is a good reason why eyewitness testimony in our courts is considered unreliable and the weakest kind of evidence. Can you find that out? I think so. If I were a god wishing my message about salvation to get out, why would I chose an illiterate populace of nomadic goat herders to do my bidding when I could have chosen some society that was highly educated and literate with a rich tradition of valuing historical records that valued accuracy, one with a world class transportation system to aid in fast and accurate communication? If I think the second is the better choice, why didn’t god? Why is this critter so very good at hiding and obfuscating the message through such unreliable sources?

        The god hypothesis just doesn’t make any sense to me and I find the reasons very poor indeed.

      • February 26, 2011 at 9:36 PM

        Thank you Tildeb, now we have some good stuff to work with, and I appreciate it, a lot.
        The “poor design” theory sounds really good until you start naming examples. Such as the retina in our eyes being so far removed from the lens, warped, and flipped upside down before it produces the proper image in your brain. This allows for a less than perfect interpretation of the world, and has been harped on as “poor design”. However, if this were not so, then any good smacking to the eye would destroy the eye’s functioning but, because the eye is built in the way that it is, one can be damaged very greatly in their eyes and still have full sight. As Christopher Hitchen’s said (sarcastically) “some design, from some designer.” Perhaps you have a good example off hand that may prove convincing.
        You know Tildeb, there is one part of this world that really gives me trouble, and I’m not satisfied with any answer I’ve gotten so far. Natural disasters. Why? I am not totally okay with this justification, but I have heard a pretty good idea. God allows the earth to exist free from his control, fully alive, just as he allows the rest of the natural order to exist. He doesn’t hold it’s hand and keep it from doing bad things, but put it in motion (similar to Spinoza’s idea, but God does at times interfere with individuals). But still I’m kinda pissed at God for letting natural disasters ruin so many lives. Just thought I’d be honest.
        I don’t understand the left over energy juice thing…. what?
        Suffering is not a strong argument against theism, but a strong argument for God’s love. Let me explain in the thoughts of C.S. Lewis. There are four basic analogies for God’s love for us.
        1. Creator to creation. Potter to clay. In this analogy, we are works created by and for the God, and to reflect his skill and beauty. If the clay is not shaped appropriately he will cut it, and mold it, and tear it, if need be, to make us perfectly as he intended. This is an incomplete analogy.
        2. Master to beat. Shepherd to sheep. We are submissive to God, but have our own ideas of what we want, though we do not always know what’s best for us. I want to sit in the road, shepherd. Well, I’ll get run over, so even though I don’t want God to move me, and don’t see a reason why he should (it’s not like there’s cars around), and it’s morally improper for God to move me, when that’s where I want to be, God will move me- even against my will. Also, we domesticate dogs. We don’t let them poo inside. So when they do, we rub their nose in it, and hit them. Not because we enjoy hurting them, but because they will never know better if we don’t. And it makes them more loveable, more like what the creator from 1 created us to be.
        3. Father to Son. This is one of my favorites. Hebrews 12 says endure hardship as discipline, for God is treating you as sons. And it assures us that God knows what’s best for us, even better than our earthly fathers. As a child I thought I knew what was good for me. But I didn’t, and my Dad punished me for it. Not just because what I did was wrong, but because it was going to hurt me if I continued. Why not have sex with whoever, whenever I want, God, it’s my life and my penis! Well, you’ll get a disease, and most likely have emotional issues, and help others get those issues and diseases too, and then you die rather soon and unhappy. God doesn’t want that for us. So he disciplines us.
        4. Husband to Wife. This is another of my favorites. No spouse will let the other cheat on them, not even just orally or emotionally. They want their significant other to be wholly theirs. (there are some perversions that lie outside of this analogy, which I have been subject to in my heart, but they are empty and painful in the end). In the same way God does not want us to be involved in other things that take us from him. Wether it’s sex, school, sports, video games, TV, whatever! Even if it’s hinduism, or pride, or greed.
        Asking God to discipline us less, and less jealous is not asking for more love, but less.
        Also, since you mentioned morality, I’m wondering, on what do you base morality from a naturalistic perspective?
        I did not write about Jesus and God interchangeably. I argue from Christianity, of which Christ is a central figure. Evidence for him actually existing is pretty relative, and I even mentioned that you have to have to decide who he is. All things verifiable about his life (that is the places he went, the cultural he lived in, the time period he lived in, legislation about him, the manner in which he died, the documents which he preached from, the people he interacted with [both important politicians, and common people], the foundation of his ministry [prophesies, and OT] and also the events after his life about his life) have been in overwhelming support of him existing, and existing as the gospel writers portrayed him. I would be glad to go into detail on that list if you like. Evidence for his divinity, well it’s there. Evidence against…. well…. honestly a naturalistic bias is not credible.
        Of the 63 references to earth as the center of the universe, first the goal of the bible is not to say if the earth is the center of the universe. The bible does not address the issue. It would only reference in reference to something else, not as the focus. So, God doesn’t address the issue in the bible, and the writers of the bible never claim that God gave them that knowledge anyway. If you give me an actual reference, I will show you how to apply what I’ve said practically to the text, and show you how it’s a stretch to say that. And just so you know about Galileo, his heliocentric idea was spot on, but his method for coming to that conclusion was wrong. He had a theory about tides that with modern science is easily disproved. Also, he was not persecuted by the catholic church because of his scientific ideas, he was persecuted because he turned to biblical interpretation to support his weak ideas, which he was NOT able to defend.. As a layman he was overstepping his bounds (not that I agree with the catholic church there) and was so put on house arrest. Just so you know, Galileo used the bible to support him… he was not secular (he was a believer).
        About your last paragraph… If an authoritative group, a highly educated and literate people were given the message of Christianity you would be more inclined to believe it? Tildeb, I don’t believe you. I don’t believe that a weak ad hominin argument would have any merit in your mind. I also believe that you would discredit the founding of the religion saying it would not have survived if it were not forced down people’s throats by authority, or people blindly followed a reputation. Instead Christianity had to penetrate skeptics from the mouths of fishermen. The message had to have authority because the messengers didn’t. Guess what, it caught on, and has become extremely powerful. I understand you were probably referring to Old Testament, but to do so would take a lot more time and become a discussion of theology, and a lot of speculation. I’d rather stick to what we know. “a rich tradition of valuing historical records that valued accuracy” that is a spot on description of the way the Old Testament documents were kept up with, and all evidence points in overwhelming support, names the dead sea scrolls. “one with a world class transportation system to aid in fast and accurate communication” that sounds just like Rome, and sounds a lot like what happened in the first century church. I think God did agree with you. Sorry he didn’t use cars or the internet to get it all started…?
        My brother once said “God hides himself just enough to make us seek him.” I agree. I think God wants us to really want him, and wants us to realize our need for him. I don’t know why, and when I ask he usually just tells me how amazing he is and refreshes my love and my trust.

        The atheist hypothesis does make sense to me, and I find strong reasons. However, God speaks truth, even if it’s difficult to find, and in the end I can rest assured that I have not accepted what is easy, but what is right.

      • February 27, 2011 at 10:19 AM

        Look at what you are doing in your reasoning: you are excusing and rationalizing the factually incorrect truth claims made in the bible by asserting what you believe is god’s meanings, purposes, intentions, and so on. But how can you know any of these? Well, you pretend scripture explains it… leaving us in the same boat of wondering how we can know if the factual truth claims of the bible are, in fact, correct or incorrect! This is called circular reasoning, where the premise is used as the conclusion:

        god is true because scripture tells us so, and we know this is true because scripture tells us it is true. We know many truth claims found in scripture are in fact false so how can we trust scripture about god to be true? Well, because scripture tells us it is true and we know scripture is true because it tells us it is true in spite of knowing that scripture is filled with factual errors. All these errors can be accounted for because we can interpret it in ways that reduce the factual meanings to be metaphorical and we know that the metaphorical interpretations must be correct because scripture cannot be wrong because it tells us it is true. And so on, and so on, and so on… leaving us back at the beginning of having to use faith alone to inform scripture.

        This is a highly untrustworthy source for determining what is true.

        But is that faith well placed? I don’t think so and I think such faith causes far more harm than good.

        You yourself offer a perfect example of how your faith has undermined your value as a human being (a primate) in comparison to others and has adversely affected your ability to learn about it. For example, evolution is a foundation of learning about life. You use scripture to determine if evolution can be true – a bible filled with factual errors that has no evidence of its trustworthiness in and of itself but in need of ‘correct’ interpretation. You elevate the bible to act as the screener of what’s factually true, and this impedes your ability to understand and appreciate why evolution is true and how we can know this to be the case. I claim that your elevating scripture to be the benchmark of what’s true against which all else is to be measured is a terrible decision (for that is what it is). It is a mistake, a gross error, an active impediment to do so because it replaces respecting what IS true and substitutes this with what you are told to believe is true. You have placed the cart before the horse and assume the order is correct because you have been told it is correct. It isn’t. It is exactly backwards and elevates ignorance to be holy and knowledge to be too dangerous to trust. Your faith, your trust in scripture to be true, reduces you as a person and interferes with your potential to intellectually grow while trying to convince yourself and others that such ignorance is a virtue and pleasing to your god. I think faith is an insult to human intelligence because we don’t it any longer to start understanding what is true and an active agent to undermine honest morals and ethics based on reason and what is true in fact. But mostly I am disgusted with how of often faith is used to pretend that we know stuff that we have no way of knowing, such as god’s intentions for your life. You own your own life and yet believers would try to convince you that you have no such claim because they believe this thingie called god demands you to be subservient to primates with penises… and have successfully convinced you to go along with this lunacy. Your submission to god as some kind of fatherly figure rather than a nurturing motherly figure reveals this mindset, and I think it actively harms you from becoming a fully responsible and independent person equal in rights and freedoms to any other primate on the planet backed by excellent reason s why this equality is true. Furthermore, someone’s faith has no justification to suggest otherwise without hard and fast evidence that by nature of your gender you are somehow less than in the eyes of this nebulous doppelganger critter people call god.

        You deserve better, and it starts with learning why this is true.

      • February 28, 2011 at 1:39 AM

        Tildeb, I’d like to note for the legitimacy of this argument that I have listed proofs for God (though not undeniable proofs) and you have disagreed with them but failed to refute them. Are you going to refute the arguments, or not? I did adress your arguments and refuted them explicitly using scripture only when the personality of God was put into question, even if it was indirectly, when talking about the reason for suffering (the problem of pain). When God’s person is questioned, then our source of who he is (even if it is indeed a fictional character) must be referred to, should it not? For that matter I did not refer to the bible as truth because it’s true because it said so. Perhaps there is something I said that sounded like that and I have failed to recognize it. If so, please point it out for me, I missed it.
        Tildeb, stop giving opinions and start giving examples. I want evidence to back up your claims. What are the “factual errors” the bible is filled with? Show them to me, and maybe I”ll change my mind if they prove potent. If you don’t show them to me then you’re offering no new information. It’s not like I’ve never heard people say that before. I’ve heard that truth claim, show me the evidence. As for interpretation… dude, I am not saying to metaphorically interpret a narrative or a history book. I’m saying treat poetry like poetry. When someone writes “my heart has melted to wax with in me” I do not think his heart literally melted to wax, and since that’s not possible the psalmist was on crack and therefore the bible is incorrect. No, it’s not literal. Don’t treat it like it’s something it’s not.
        Next- I’m a fan of evolution. (the science, not the opinions/ and I’d say the same for ID or Creationism)
        And- I’m a feminist (and I’m one of those primates with a penis).
        SO- Obviously they don’t conflict with my being a Christian.
        Also- I do not agree with everything Paul wrote. In fact, I disagree with him. I might be wrong, but just so you know I do not use the bible as my source on truth or morality. I judge it according to what I know to be true and real. The bible, under scrutiny and proper reading, has stood up strong. It is difficult at times to understand. The bible was written by a much different cultural framework than I live in today, and so it has it’s inherent difficulties. Once these are recognized and treated appropriately, the bible makes sense. Show me the inconsistencies, or I will not be convinced otherwise.
        Of morality, I have not read all of the article you posted. It was going off on tangent, though when I have some time I’ll read through it. I did want to note that it is not the bible as a source of morality I was arguing for (and the bible disagrees with, actually). I was stating that a morality common to everyone must be transcendent. I avoided using that word because I’ve seen people react negatively to it when mentioned though would agree if it were described in other words. Since morality is transcendent it cannot be genetic, or cultural, or societal, or even finite, but must still be inherent, and obvious, and infinite. I do argue for situation ethics however, in case that’s where that was going to lead. But the fact that a right and wrong do exist and it’s not just a fuzzy line manipulated in any which direction according to the tune of our DNA, I do not agree with.
        God’s gender… I could explain to you how I feel about that but it doesn’t really matter. I was using C.S. Lewis’ outline from The chapter the Fall of Man from his “The Problem of Pain.” And he used direct analogies from the bible, explained in full, and applied to suffering. But again, I’m a feminist, many Christians are.
        Thanks for reading Tildeb, I hope this conversation can get us deep into the truth about God’s existence.

      • February 27, 2011 at 4:41 PM

        Steve Novella does a very good job deconstructing the morality argument here. And please imprint the first comment in your memory engrams that points out the irrefutable necessity to have morality precede any reading of scripture in order to read it for moral teachings!

      • February 28, 2011 at 10:03 AM

        The reason why I pointed out evolution is because it thoroughly and exhaustively describes how life is without any need for a creator. The evolution of the eye is but one example. You do not understand this, which is why you attempt to ‘refute’ the accusation of poor design with a made up argument about how the eye is designed to avoid damage. This is pure hokum. But you say you are a ‘fan’ of evolution, which causes me some confusion because I think it makes very little sense to say I am a ‘fan’ of gravity, or a ‘fan’ of germs, or a ‘fan’ of atomic theory. These theories simply are the best explanations we have, and in the case of evolution makes any kind of suggestion of divine ‘design’ infantile.

        The fact of the matter is that you are genetically related to every other bit of life on the planet because of common decent. The evidence is overwhelming. At what point in the decent over several billion years does a ‘creator’ intervene and go poof? Nowhere. There is absolutely zero evidence of intervention. None. Not one whit. Anywhere. Is this understanding what makes you a ‘fan’? I sincerely doubt it. We carry exact genetic replicas of DNA altered by disease processes and mutations of other critters, for crying out loud. The very idea of some designer adding this to our DNA is nonsensical, much the same way that installing flapable wings on a jet aircraft makes no sense. For an excellent piece of evidence of common decent, one really needs to wrap one’s head around the laryngeal nerve looping all the way the aorta on one side (the same example is in a giraffe which adds seventeen feet of extra nerve to make the same connection!), which makes sense only if we share a common ancestor (and we do, based on fish). I suspect you have never heard of the hundreds of design ‘flaws’ that show exactly what we would expect to find if common decent were true. And that’s why my refutation is based on powerful evidence for which making up excuses does like getting a fist to the eye does not refute in any meaningful way.

        I have also pointed out my arguments about suffering, about the obscenity of the prey/predator system to ensure it. My point here is that C.S. Lewis and other renowned apologists for god’s disregard for suffering attempt to rationalize this divine designer’s intentions based only on human suffering, which is still entirely inadequate; my point is that these arguments utterly fail to address in any meaningful way the incredible suffering in the animal kingdom, which renders these sophisticated rationalizations null and void.

        The first factual errors occur in Genesis. Not only the order of creation cannot be kept straight but we know that the order of life is factually wrong: you cannot have global vegetation, for example before sunlight. Birds evolved after land creatures, and so on. But you already know this if you are a knowledgeable fan of evolution. As one long recurring error, I happen to prefer the geocentric error that keeps appearing throughout the old and new testaments, revealing good evidence that the writings so many pretend comes straight down the pipe from some human-concerned god has every indication of being in fact human understanding (that is factually wrong) passed on through human generations to find its way into peppering the bible with this common factual error. I’m almost sure that if anyone could have gotten this straightened out long before human knowledge reached this level of capability to figure out heliocentrism although counter-intuitive was in fact correct, god surely ranks as the one who really missed the boat on this one. Again, ‘his’ knowledge looks exactly like human> knowledge. The obvious explanation is that god had nothing whatsoever to do with these human writings and indeed is a collection of writings based on making false claims about coming from god.

        It’s not my job to change your mind about your beliefs. My job is to offer legitimate criticism to those who make theological claims that they can’t back up. When I ask believers to at least be honest, it soon becomes apparent that not one of them actually “knows” anything about god (just try to describe what this notion you call god actually means) and we soon find there is no way to even “know” anything about its supposed intentions and desires and aims and goals and so forth. Such claims inevitably result in conclusions that have all the earmarks of something that is made up by people and not any evidence that stands beyond this charge.

        The reason why I focused my last comment on evolution is because it offers us a way to actually investigate why life is the way it is. And this includes morality.

        You assert that because morality common to everyone must be transcendent and that since you’ve discovered that it is transcendent it cannot be genetic, or cultural, or societal, or even finite, but must still be inherent, and obvious, and infinite even if inherited. Therefore Jesus. I mean it makes no linear sense. That we share behaviours we call moral with other primates, how does this lead us anywhere except back to evolution for our understanding of why we behave the way we do? Your answer is that it comes from god. But that’s not an answer that leads us to knowledge; it is facsimile of an answer that answers nothing.

        I have no clue what you mean by our morality is evidence of the ‘transcendent’. Transcended to what? From where? How is this vague substance you call morality instilled into us if it comes from some other source than our interactions with the world based on the genetic code we inherit? How does this supposed transcendent morality lead us, for example, to the magic of transubstantiation where crackers become the body of Jesus which we then cannibalize?

        Morality is not a thing. It is a word we use to describe where on a spectrum of favourable to unfavourable behaviours an act lies, which is why sometimes it’s good to kill and at other time a despicable act. Our common morality comes from our biology and not some magical critter bestowing on us this sense of judging behaviours and acts that are – in and of themselves – right or wrong.

      • February 28, 2011 at 12:28 PM

        Tildeb, thank you for replying and talking about the arguments. I appreciate it a lot. And thanks for your good thoughts on the subject as well.
        Evolution is a good theory, but let me be clear, it does not account for creation, and therefore does not exclude a creator. Simple as that. The science of evolution does not cover the origin of life, and therefore does not exclude an originator. The science of Evolution does not exhaustively describe anything since the fossil record we have is extremely limited considering how many generations of various organisms have existed on Earth and how DNA mapping is a recent development and DNA has not been conquered. Yes, I have said it: humanity does not know everything! Surprised, I’m sure.
        I disagree that the eye example was meaningless, but if that’s the way you want to think about it, then I’m okay with that. Honestly my understanding of God does not rely on creation being perfect. I have said before that God does not hold the hand of his creation interfering at every moment. Imperfections arise, and yes, they arise through natural process. But it is important to note that many “imperfections” are not quite so awful. For example, the eye! haha.
        Of your predator/prey relationship there is an interesting dilemma, I think. Based on naturalism and survival of the fittest, a hungry organism, if so adapted, can eat a weaker organism. What is stopping humans from eating each other? Or killing each other for material gain? We regard each other as sacred, even if we deny the sacred. Or am I just a possible meal to you? Or maybe not a meal, but my wardrobe is potentially yours if you kill me. I don’t think you would find a desire for my stuff, however enticing, reason enough to harm me at all. But why not? You’re hungry, and would be better off. If we are spiritual beings then the manner in which humans treat each other vs other organisms makes sense. Just a thought.
        Did you know plants have the equivalent of nerve endings? They feel pain when we cut them up and eat them. Kind of interesting.
        Morality is transcendent of time, culture, society, and opinions. It is not bound by what people believe to be moral or what DNA sequences a person has. So I do not conclude Jesus. Naturalism cannot allow for the transcendent, so either morality is subjective (with leads to meaningless) or nonexistent. Your conscience testifies against a nonexistent morality, and if you believe something to be wrong, not because your DNA says so, but because it’s actually wrong, then you disagree with subjective morality.
        Also, you misunderstand communion. Not that it matters, because you can’t understand it unless you first accept God as at least possible.
        You never answered my question about that, at least not explicitly. I asked if your atheism was a belief, or if it was absolute knowledge beyond opinion and not subject to change. You didn’t tell me, but it’s clear that it’s not a possibility to you. This whole conversation has been about that question. Since God is a logical or physical impossibility, I’ve asked, based on what. So far you’ve said evolution, and old people’s geocentricism (which you still haven’t provided examples, and explained how it was a claim to God’s absolute knowledge that the universe revolves around the earth). Oh yeah, you also said poor design, and biblical contradictions (both still lacking examples and explanations).
        By the way, read Genesis 1. It’s not literal. It’s clearly poetry, and it has meter. Also, in verse 2 there’s light, before plants. The purpose of Genesis 1 is to establish monotheism. Genesis 2 and 3 is clearly prose, and not written like literal narrative either. It establishes the basic state of man, morality, temptation, and basic gender roles (women have babies, and men work for the food). It also reflects the patriarchal culture, but does not establish it; and it has a prophesy for Jesus, as well as serving as an allegory for Jesus on the cross. One thing Genesis never claims to be is a book of science. I am not saying you have to interpret different parts of the bible in special ways to make it make sense so that logic doesn’t destroy Christianity. I’m saying don’t be stupid, and read poetry like poetry. If it wasn’t poetry and prose or obvious allegory, I wouldn’t be asking you not to interpret literally.
        Of your last paragraph I’ve written the implications on my other blog note that you’ve already commented on. So there you go.

      • February 28, 2011 at 2:49 PM

        True, evolution makes no claims about biogenisis. But you are not going to leave this god 5 billion years in the past, are you?

        If we honestly want to increase our knowledge about anything, making attributions in the name of faith isn’t going to increase it one bit. Theology doesn’t increase our knowledge because its method to inquire after it is broken. And that’s why accepting faith-based attributions to be an ‘equivalent way of knowing’ as a method like science is wrong: it produces no knowledge at all and actively interferes with honest inquiry – evolution specifically in this thread. So if we can’t trust faith to provide us with honest knowledge in basic biology like evolution, who on earth would you assume it can do any better a job inquiring into human morality?

  4. March 4, 2011 at 1:03 PM

    Brother, I disagree. You’re missing a very fundamental possibility. What if God is real, and at least some of the claims about his character and what he has done are true? Then faith is the only way to gain that knowledge. Faith and science do not contradict/ often times they do not even overlap. When good science and good theology do meet they often compliment each other.
    “it produces no knowledge at all and actively interferes with honest inquiry – evolution specifically in this thread.”
    I am not arguing against evolution. Evolution does not account for biogenisis as you said. God does, evolution does not. Not overlapping, complimenting. All honest inquiry is welcomed. I find no logical contradiction in God using natural means to achieve creation. Any idea presented for the beginning of life does not lead to the conclusion that God didn’t do it, unless certain dangerous presumptions are made.

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